Is bamboo for you?
Bamboo flooring has evolved into one of the biggest segments of the wood flooring industry over the past 10 years. That’s because it’s much cheaper and more durable than most wood flooring options out there. Is it for you? Here’s a bamboo flooring primer.
First of all, bamboo isn’t wood at all. It’s a type of grass, the biggest grass in the world, and there are dozens of varieties. The one most often used for flooring, called Moso bamboo, is from China and other parts of Asia.
Bamboo is processed in a few different ways to make flooring. ‘Stranded’ bamboo is by far the biggest section of the bamboo flooring market. It’s made by shredding the stalks into long strands and then compressing them into the final solid form using heat and plastic binders. It’s available as tongue-and-groove flooring that’s nailed down, or the click-together style, the same choices for most laminate and engineered plank floors. The hardness and durability of stranded bamboo flooring exceed that of any domestic solid wood flooring available. The dozens of colors available allow you to choose flooring that’s shaded like cherry, ash, oak or just about any other wood species. However, since stranded bamboo doesn’t have natural wood grain, few would mistake it for the real deal.
If you want the actual look of bamboo, choose ‘horizontal’ bamboo flooring. Instead of being shredded, the bamboo stalks are cut into thin strips, which are then laminated together to form the planks. You can see the grain and nodes (the ‘knuckles’ on bamboo stalks) in the flooring. However, horizontal bamboo flooring isn’t nearly as hard as stranded, so it isn’t the best bamboo choice if your floor will get heavy use or abuse.
The least expensive bamboo option is engineered bamboo flooring. It has a thin layer of bamboo laminated onto plywood, the same type of construction used for other engineered flooring.
Bamboo does have a couple of downsides. Because it’s grass, not wood, it’s more affected by moisture than other flooring choices. It will swell substantially more than wood or other types of flooring, so avoid installing it in damp areas and use care when mopping. And unlike wood flooring, bamboo can’t be sanded down and refinished.